Happy Listmas! I’m sure as the end of the year gets closer you’ve been captivated/terrified by the growing number of lists, spreading like an infection across twitter feeds, blogs, review sites. Pretty soon TV thick with them (I assume) and radiostations across the world will have already begun counting down the top 1000 tracks of the year. I’ve fallen victim to this plague and have decided to spontaneously, and without much actual thought, throw together a list myself.
Cynical introduction completed, I’ll admit that I like lists of “Games of the Year”; the buzz of approval when a personal favourite gets a well deserved spot and the snap of indignation when it’s all just completely wrong. Pulling together my own top 5 list I decided to keep that in mind, no fancy spreadsheets, scores, or ouija here. I’ve looked at what I have played this year and picked the 5 I enjoyed the most to put in the list; In that respect there’s not much fine print. In order for a game to make the short-list I have to have first played it this year (most of them were released prior to this year) and have spent a reasonable amount of time playing it; the full list of games that fall into that Venn Diagram intersection are given at the end of this post, but here is the “Top 5 Games That I Have Played This Year – 2015!”:
#5: Cities: Skylines
This is my current game of choice and despite sinking some solid hours into it, I’m still eager for more. There’s something magical in watching the city grow, especially as the last ‘sim-city’ type game I remember playing was ‘Sim-City 3000’ and now the graphics and intricacy make the whole experience akin to looking at a living piece of art. The interface is intuitive and, unlike my experiences with similar games, I find myself making use of all the options. The ability to define districts with their own regulations is well implemented and somehow injects life and depth into your city. Likewise the finances are tweakable but don’t end up making you feel like you have a second-job. This breadth of control, yet ease & simplicity keeps the player engaged with the city. I suspect that purists of the genre might find it light on options, but for me it’s been a welcome change of pace.
#4: Wolfenstein: The New Order
I had some qualms about adding this to my top-5 list due to the subject matter; Bethesda’s brief note during the loading screen only magnified my worry that the game trivialises a brutal political regime and dark period in the 20th century. Surprisingly the game didn’t back away from these dark aspects and (whilst certainly not sophisticated), managed to give gravity to the situation during some far fetched story-writing. The alternative-past setting, characters and plot were all engaging in a comic book ‘over-the-top’ kind of way and the variety in locations couldn’t have been further from the origins of the series.
Wolfenstein: TNO has resurrected the rapidly fading art of good level design in a largely linear fps game. The player is given the options for stealth, full on combat, fast ‘run-and-gun’, or a more controlled and measured approach. Areas can be tackled in a variety of ways and even though the overall path is linear, you might be given the option to walk down side-corridors, or through a more open area for example. Combat is firmly lifted from the 90’s with armor, healthpacks and a solid set of weapon options.
No one aspect of this was groundbreaking, but the whole thing was so well put together that I found myself drawn in to this world and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience – gets my vote for ‘Pleasant Surprise’ of the year.
#3: Lego Jurassic World
… Just watch the famous Jeff Goldblum laughing scene recreated in Lego… You’ll understand…
I’m both baffled and delighted by the Lego games. The brand has become synonymous with high quality fun to play games jam-packed full of charm, humour and parody. The Lego games emphasise fun over all else and remind players that gaming can just be about being silly and having fun with friends. Where most companies might have been content to simply make a game focusing on the latest film release, the developers understand that the IP they are handed is sacred to many and took it upon themselves to “do it right”. They have covered all the films, lovingly recreated them in Lego and even though younger fans of the latest movie might scarcely be aware of Sam Neil’s cinematic triumph ‘Jurassic Park 3’ it was nevertheless given a dignified amount of content and playtime. My partner and I played this exclusively to 100% completion, laughed at the plastic recreations of iconic (and grizzly) scenes and even felt that pang of disappointment when we received that final award knowing there was nothing left to discover.
#2: No More Room in Hell
I’ve already written a block of text about NMRIH; it has provided our Wednesday evening online gaming sessions with the most enjoyment this year and I’ve range racked up a good chunk of playtime in this fan made, glitchy, apocalypse. It looks dated, has some awkward controls, missing animations and a whole heap of bugs, but shines in a dry and tired genre. I also played Evolve this year, compared to that visually stunning co-op shooter, NMRIH still would be my choice for an evening of gaming with friends. The attraction lies in the challenge, tension and teamwork. Survival is a messy and scrappy business and each of the scenarios we competed felt earned in this way. Those awkward ammo exchanges and rushed conversations about ‘who is carrying what’ feel representative of what my group of friends would spend most of a survival scenario doing. If there is a stigma associated with ‘Free to Play’, NMRIH only serves to break that down.
#1: Life is Strange
The ‘Pick your own adventure’ style of point-and-click game is on the rise; these have been characterised by a strong plot, excellent writing and gut wrenching decisions with lasting ramifications (although generally keeping a common overarching story direction). Telltale Games have stepped away from the traditional point-and-click style to define themselves as masters of this new sub-genre and, whilst I’ve been a fan of their work in the past, their offerings this year have failed to grab my attention. I never rode the ‘Game of Thrones’ wave, I don’t have the patience for Minecraft and the tedious inventory management of the Borderlands games has convinced me that I never want to visit that particular barren wasteland again.
Then into the arena stepped ‘Life is Strange’ – I joined in around the release of episode 3 and blitzed through them all in a weekend to catch up. The plot is engaging (whilst aspects of it arn’t so well developed or explained), the characters (even the villains of our piece) are compelling to watch and the decisions are just as gut-wrenching. Those dark places that the game drags you are all the more shadowy for the brightness and beauty that lie in other scenes. The game is graphically very attractive and has an almost flawless soundtrack which completes this world.
On top of all of this, the game adds to the formula of the genre; the time-travel mechanic (introduced at the start of episode 1) brings puzzle solving and the ability to cross-examine your decisions to something normally flowing inexorably in a single direction. I don’t want to say too much else as really you should go play it…
As is customary in these kinds of lists it’s good to acknowledge things that didn’t make the top 5, but were really difficult to eliminate, so here are my ‘honorable mentions’:
Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger – This was an impulse purchase, but is non-stop action and wild west fun from start to finish!
The Flame in the Flood – Easily my Early Access Game of the Year, looking forward to the full release
Resident Evil: Remastered – My Resident Evil comfort zone is pre-RE4; this was all angles of nostalgic and excellent, looking forward to Zero and the RE2 remake!
The full list of games that I have played this year:
- Alien Isolation
- The Beginners Guide
- A Bird Story
- Call of Juarez: The Gunslinger
- Camera Obscura
- Cities: Skylines
- D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
- Dead Rising 2
- Dr. Langeskov, the tiger and the terribly cursed emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
- Final Exam
- The Flame in the Flood
- Ghostbusters: The Video Game
- Grim Fandango
- The Jackbox Party Pack
- Lego Jurassic World
- Life is Strange
- Nights into Dreams
- Ninja Pizza Girl
- No More Room in Hell
- Nom Nom Galaxy
- The Park
- Please! Don’t touch anything
- Portal Stories: Mel
- Project Zomboid
- Resident Evil: Remastered
- Sonic CD
- The Swindle
- Uncanny Valley
- Wolfenstein: The New Order
- Wolfenstein: The Old Blood